More on ebook love.
My love of ebooks has to do with my love for documents. You see, I’ve worked for years in the so called Document Management industry. It started in the Nineties when I was working part-time in a computer shop in Amsterdam. I was struggling with the meaning of life and while I was figuring out what I wanted to do with my life I worked in this tiny computer shop selling PC’s. One day a man walked into the shop. He was looking for a computer mouse. I showed him the available models and when we were standing at the checkout counter he asked me if I was interested in a new job. I was and a couple of weeks later I was working with this new company that sold document management systems for the AS/400 system. You’ve probably never heard about those and that’s ok.
Document Management and Content Management
Document management is all about managing electronic documents. That’s kind of obvious, but then, around 1999 a new phenomenon rose to everybody’s attention. Web Content Management. That was the new thing everybody was talking about and the company I worked for quickly saw it’s importance and merged with one of the rising stars in this field. So now I was into Document Management and Content Management Systems. Two distinct fields and everybody expected those two fields to merge. In a way they did, but in another way they didn’t.
In this merger I was always attracted more towards the Document Management side than I was attracted towards the CMS side. It’s all about the difference between documents and content. A document to me is something that’s portable, self contained. You can pick it up, take it with you and put it somewhere else. That’s true for physical documents, but also electronic documents. Think of MS Word documents and PDF’s. You store them on your hard drive, you can copy them, email them, put them on a USB-stick and if you have a new computer you just copy all your documents to the new system.
Content is a strange thing
With content it’s a different story. Content is an ambiguous word and after all these years I’m still not entirely sure what it is. It resides on websites and you can always access your content if you have an internet connection. You can edit content online and sometimes you can also export content to a document. Content is great, but it’s also a bit vague. I personally prefer documents. I know what those are and documents have one major benefit besides portability and that is digital sustainability. Several of the companies I worked for no longer exist, because they failed, or because they merged with other companies. Their websites no longer exist and the content on those sites is largely gone. But I still have the documents I made while I worked for those companies. They are still sitting on my hard drive and I can still open them. I also had several personal websites, starting with simple homepages in the nineties to the sites I maintain at this moment. Of the old sites only database backups remain and if I want to I can visit snapshots of them via the Wayback Machine. The texts I wrote back then survived as text files on my hard drive.
EPUB, build on web technology, but not for the web
Which brings me to ebooks. Ebooks are documents. You can easily copy an ePub, make backups and share your ebooks with others. If you should is another issue, especially when it comes to copyrighted material, but if that’s not the case you can do whatever you want with your ePub files. ePub is a document format that is completely based on web technology. Deep down in an ePub file you’ll find html files, css stylesheets and xml files. All basic web technology ordered in folders and zipped up into an ePub file. Ebooks are basically websites in a box. And here’s the thing, even though ePub is based on web technology, you can’t open an ePub file in the one piece of software that’s build for the web, the browser. Actually you can, but then you need special plug-ins to make this possible.
ebooks and ePub
Right now ePub is still a niche product. Ebooks are mainly used for fiction and text-based non-fiction and the market share of ebooks is still marginal in most countries. Ebooks are sold by publishers and self-publishers on ebook platforms like Amazon, Kobo and iBooks. I expect this market to grow in the coming years, but to me this is only the beginning. I believe that ePub can be much more. Right now the two main document formats are Microsoft’s Word .doc/.docx format and PDF. PDF is used for sharing documents across platforms and devices and it does it’s job reasonably well. But PDF is a format that’s getting old. It is printing technology in a time that printing is slowly fading. The main drawback is that viewing PDF’s on smaller devices is a pain. Reading a PDF on a smartphone simply sucks. There’s no other expression for it.
I believe that the ePub format could be an excellent alternative for PDF. The main advantage is that ePub documents can be viewed on every device. Everybody knows that every device has a pdf viewer these days, but less known is that every device also has an ebook reader these days. That’s important because ePub has one major advantage over PDF. It uses a reflowable format. Text fills the available screen and you can easily adjust the font-size to your liking. It doesn’t matter if you read an ebook on your laptop, tablet or smartphone. It always adapts to the screen size and you won’t be zooming and scrolling if your device has a smaller size. I think that’s a huge deal. There’s only one problem. Most people don’t know how to create en ePub file and most tools available are hard to use.
ePub evangelism. More than ebooks alone
The main goal of Eboocz was to create a tool that makes creating ePub files much easier. Now that Eboocz is on the market my next goal is to promote the ePub format. My intended market is initially the self-publishing market, but in the end I believe one could use Eboocz to create any document you can think of. Why not? The main reason this is not happening at the moment is that people simply don’t know about the possibilities of the ePub format. Right now ePub is associated with ebooks. Ebooks are about books. That sounds obvious, but I think ePub is not only about books, it could also be about other types of documents and when you realise this, the possibilities are endless.
The future of ebooks, EPUBWEB
A major boost to this vision could be a project that wants to break the barrier between ebooks and the web. It’s appropriately called EPUBWEB for now and it is a project of the IDPF, the trade and standards organisation of the digital publishing world, responsible for the ePub standard and the W3C, the World Wide Web Consortium, responsible for open web standards. EPUBWEB is in it’s early stages, but what it promises is that you can put your ebooks online and then you’ll be able to read them in your browser. If you want to, you can download a copy and continue reading offline. To me that sounds like the future of ebooks. Here’s the EPUBWEB vision:
Our vision for Portable Web Publications is to define a class of documents on the Web that would be part of the Digital Publishing ecosystem but would also be fully native citizens of the Open Web Platform. In this vision, the current format- and workflow-level separation between offline/portable and online (Web) document publishing is diminished to zero. These are merely two dynamic manifestations of the same publication: content authored with online use as the primary mode can easily be saved by the user for offline reading in portable document form. Content authored primarily for use as a portable document can be put online, without any need for refactoring the content. Publishers can choose to utilize either or both of these publishing modes, and users can choose either or both of these consumption modes. Essential features flow seamlessly between online and offline modes; examples include cross-references, user annotations, access to online databases, as well as licensing and rights management.
The future of electronic documents
If the difference between ebooks online and ebooks offline becomes only a matter of clicking on the download button in your browser, that would open up a completely new dimension for ebooks. It would also become much easier to share your documents online as ePub files. Any type of document. Browsers are the ebook readers of the future. And Eboocz was created to be part of this future. I will follow EPUBWEB closely and when it’s time I intend to support it as soon as possible. Support for EPUBWEB will broaden your horizon when using Eboocz. You can still use Eboocz to write the next big novel, but why not also write your next paper in Eboocz? Or a strategy document? Or an invoice? Sounds weird right now, but will it be weird in a couple of years? I believe that easy ePub creation tools like Eboocz and developments like EPUBWEB will pave the way for a bright future for the ePub standard. Think about it. I did. I love this vision of the future of ebooks and I’m looking forward to be a part of it.